The restaurant business is always tough sledding, even during good times. Hard choices must be made in the face of the worst market declines in a century, and the time to shuffle and redefine the culinary landscape is now. Those that refuse will not survive. It can be no other way. Fewer dollars in the hands of diners will mean a return to basics, a reinvigoration of the true skills of a restaurateur — to welcome people with passionate cooking and, perhaps more importantly, provide the warmth and hospitality of a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.
When Bowen's Island Restaurant burned to the ground in 2006, many feared the death of a treasured oyster shack, a living example of local salt marsh culture. New condos crept to Bowen's doorstep along Folly Road, and the neighboring rickety Anchor Line restaurant was soon to close. In a quickly developing corner of Charleston, could a relic like Bowen's pick up the pieces and carry on?
"This is a treasure hunt!" exclaims a visibly excited Andrew Cebulka, shin deep in frigid water and raking through a mud bank in a creek on Dewees Island. With every clam that emerges as he digs (and they're coming every 30 seconds), his grin gets wider. "I don't care about convenience — this is priceless," he says, holding up a plastic bag full of bivalves like a sack of gold.
Interviewing Mike Ray and Ben Johnson of Normandy Farm Artisan Bakery is a lot like interviewing Bill and Ted, of the classic stoner flick Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. It's hard to get a straight answer out of the owner and employee, respectively — they're constantly joking around, and they're distracted by the thought of going surfing on this freakishly warm December day.
Tough economic times are all around us, but as JFK pointed out way back when the world was innocent, crisis and opportunity are inextricably linked. Those willing to roll up their sleeves, trim the fat, and cut the bone are bound to rise above.
Genuine churned buttermilk is a rare luxury these days. Just ask Chef Sean Brock, who's been trying to get his hands on a supply of the real stuff for three years. "Buttermilk has been on my list," he says, showing off some "ice cream" and blobs of "cheese" made from the cultured buttermilk that he and his crew have been messing around with.
If there is a heaven just for fried chicken lovers, I'm pretty sure the pearly gates are topped with a gleaming golden slogan that reads: "If the colonel had our recipe, he'd be a general!"
OK, so sliders are trendy. In the past year, they've appeared on menus at lowly Charleston sports bars and high-end restaurants, too. And, apparently, we didn't start this trend. At the Kobe Club in New York City, three Wagyu beef sliders with caramelized onions and black truffle sauce will set you back $27. Sliders have even made it to backwater places like Columbia, where the Free Times has called them a "hipster food craze."
Brett Maynard's first serious kitchen job was at Bacchanalia in Atlanta, the kind of place an ambitious chef could learn lifelong lessons in food. His mother likens it to a lawyer going to Harvard Law. If you want to know about how to enhance the flavors of fresh food and local produce, who better to teach you than Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, the chef/owners of one of Atlanta's top 10 restaurants for the last 15 years.
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